2010 March


Interpreting Pakistan’s QST Crackdown

by CDS Editors


In a recent article for Small Wars Journal, AEI researcher Reza Jan and Institute for the Study of War analyst Jeffrey Dressler examine some of the arguments that have emerged in recent weeks about the motivations behind Pakistan’s crackdown on elements of the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST). Has the Pakistani military definitively turned against the QST, its former proxy? Or are they simply targeting individuals who have already been “expelled” by QST leader Mullah Omar and are now believed to be pursuing goals contrary to Pakistani interests? The real answer, explain Dressler and Jan, may stem from an emerging debate within the Pakistani military:

The decision to act against the QST will ultimately be made among the highest echelons of the Pakistani military establishment. Word has been circulating for some time that debate within that circle is ongoing as to whether and when Pakistan would begin to shed its Taliban proxies. Those who would continue wholesale support for the QST are no longer the only voices in the room and Pakistan’s actions towards the QST may be reflective of these differences.

But the authors also suggest that at the end of the day, the results of the recent roundup are more important than the logic or strategy driving it:

It’s too early to tell if the Pakistanis have reversed their policy towards the QST — or even if they will. It would be equally shortsighted to ignore the significance of the recent actions Pakistan has taken. We do not have all the pieces of the puzzle, nor do we really know which pieces are missing. For the first time we are seeing significant pressure being put on the QST in Pakistan at the same time that they are being squeezed militarily in Afghanistan. This novel situation and the opportunities it presents require careful consideration and are in many respects more important than understanding what exactly caused it.

Check out the full article here.

(Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. David E. Alvarado.)

The Threat from LeT

by CDS Editors

Ashley Tellis testified last week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the growing threat from Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT). In the course of his remarks, he not only sought to dispel the common misconception that LeT is simply a Kashmir-focused group (“That LeT pursues goals that go beyond India, even if it has focused on the latter disproportionately…”), but also outlined the evolution of Pakistan’s historic strategy of employing insurgent proxies as a core tool of statecraft — “the instrument that allowed Pakistan to punch above its geopolitical weight.” He concluded by noting that “U.S. policy towards South Asia will fail if it does not accept the reality that all the Islamist terrorist groups operating within the region are, far from being anarchic free agents, actually instruments of state authority.” The full testimony, available here, is well worth a read.

The hearing was a timely one, as the Indian government’s has recently decided to bolster security at its embassy in Nepal in response to new intelligence reports of growing LeT-related threats in Kathmandu. Delhi also has plans to send a contingent of Indo-Tibetan Border Police commandos to Kabul to provide security for Indian officials in the city, following an attack last month on facilities frequented by Indian nationals which the Afghan government believes was carried out by LeT agents.


“Rough Patch” Roundup

by Michael Mazza

News out of East Asia has been more troubling than usual over the past few weeks. In brief:

  • Col. Liu Mingfu of the PLA published China’s Dream, a book in which he writes that China’s ultimate goal is to become the world’s primary superpower in the 21st century. Liu reportedly depicts the U.S. and China as in a competition for global dominance and emphasizes the importance of Chinese military superiority. “To save itself, to save the world,” he writes, “China must prepare to become the [world’s] helmsman.” Though this would seem to call the “peaceful rise” concept into question, some commentators have argued that China’s Dream presents nothing more than the view of an individual soldier. That the book’s publication must have been sanctioned by the PLA — the military of one of the world’s most heavily censored countries — is apparently irrelevant.
  • The Chinese government announced last week that it would slow the growth of its defense budget in the coming year, likely due to fiscal restraints in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. This was good news for U.S. and allied militaries, which have been increasingly concerned by the PLA’s modernization. But Harsh Pant of King’s College, London, yesterday reminded us that the Chinese government’s official figures “do not include the cost of new weapon purchases, research or other big-ticket items for China’s highly secretive military and as a result, the real figures are much higher than the revealed amount.”
  • Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and National Security Council Senior Director Jeffrey Bader traveled to Beijing last week in hopes of pushing past a rough patch in U.S.-China relations. Foreign Policy‘s Josh Rogin sums up the trip: they “went to China with the understanding that they would have substantive discussions on some key issues of U.S. interest, but the Chinese side used the opportunity to try to bargain for an end to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, something Beijing has wanted for decades and now feels bold enough to demand.” The Chinese were not interested in discussing issues of supposedly mutual concern — Iran, North Korea, and climate change — instead wanting to talk about “Taiwan, Taiwan, and Taiwan.” The Obama administration’s diplomacy continues to impress.
  • Several hundred Tibetans have been arrested — probably by the People’s Armed Police — ahead of the anniversary of the fatal unrest that struck Tibet in 2008. No comment as of yet from the State Department or White House.

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Countdown to NPR

by Tom Donnelly


The Washington wonk-natives are throbbing in anticipation of the release  (expected daily! Hourly!) or at least additional leaks about the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review.  Ever since a White House-sourced New York Times story, the pre-game tension has been mounting.  But that was more than a week ago, an eternity here inside the Beltway.

But the likelihood is that the NPR, maybe even more than the recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review, will be a wet noodle.  The point of balance where the White House’s nuclear abolitionist sentiments meet the Pentagon’s practical assessment of strategic reality is predictable: it would be shocking if there were truly deep cuts below the 1500-warhead level forecast for the Geneva arms control talks with the Russians.  And the media yammering about adjustments to the prospects of a “no first use” doctrine — a secondary issue and a policy that, even if embraced by the White House, could be reversed in the future — suggests an attempt to create a story where there isn’t much else to talk about.

The larger story about the review, alas, is that, rather than looking at the very different and certainly more dangerous nuclear future in view, the administration is looking in the rearview mirror, looking at unresolved Cold-War business.  A truly useful nuclear posture review would:

  • Consider the role of nuclear weapons in preserving the U.S. position as the guarantor of the liberal, international system.  At what point will nuclear reductions become a part of the growing narrative of American decline?
  • Anticipate the coming multipolar nuclear balance. The Cold-War, bipolar balance of terror is giving way a world where many more states — and, possibly, “non-state actors” — possess nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; the bar to great-power status is being lowered and the relative size of the U.S. arsenal is less intimidating.  We should think this through before taking decisions.
  • Take a hard-headed look at the conventional balance.  American conventional supremacy has been taken for granted since the collapse of the Soviet empire, to the point where “prevailing” in current irregular conflicts has become the first-order priority for the Pentagon.  While it would be folly to give up on the wars we’re already fighting solely to deter future conflicts, there have been many past cases in which U.S. nuclear strength made up for conventional weaknesses.

To conclude with a bit of shameless commerce: these and other issues will be discussed at length in a forthcoming Center for Defense Studies monograph: Toward a New “New Look”: U.S. Nuclear Strategy and Forces for the Third Atomic Age, by yours truly and my friend and former colleague David Trachtenberg.

We’re just waiting to see the Nuclear Posture Review to finish it.  The excitement is unbearable.

Tom Donnelly is director of the Center for Defense Studies.

(Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency, 2010 Ground-based Midcourse Defense System Test)

Mission Accomplished?

by Tim Sullivan

Over the last month, U.S. forces have been steadily drawing down in Haiti. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which arrived three days after the earthquake, left the scene February 1; the 2,300 Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit were released from Joint Task Force-Haiti on February 7; Air National Guard units began scaling back their support for Operation Unified Response in late February; and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, which had been  operating throughout Port-au-Prince, began to return home in recent days.

As the demand for immediate emergency relief subsided and international organizations and NGOs began to establish a foothold in Port-au-Prince, U.S. commanders in Haiti signaled an eagerness to “right-size” the force in the country for the evolving mission — swapping infantrymen for logisticians and engineers. According to the memorandum of understanding signed by U.S. and UN officials in the first weeks after the quake, American forces in Haiti were only ever expected to facilitate the distribution of relief materials, assess and repair critical infrastructure, and — if requested by MINUSTAH or the Haitian government — provide security assistance. In recent days, Gen. Douglas Fraser, U.S. SOUTHCOM commander, announced that “our mission is largely accomplished.”

There’s little doubt that the presence of U.S. troops in Haiti served as an important check on potential violence and unrest — keeping relative order at aid distribution points and deterring criminal activity. It’s not surprising, then, that residents of Port-au-Prince are reporting uneasiness about the U.S. troops’ departure, doubtful that the nearly 10,000-strong MINUSTAH peacekeeping force can adequately maintain order in the devastated city. The effectiveness of the Haitian National Police is also in doubt; as USIP’s Bob Perito noted last month, “there wasn’t much law enforcement to begin with, and now there’s even less.”

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The Voice of Experience

by Tom Donnelly

Meghan O’Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush Administration who helped to oversee the Iraq surge, has written the so-far best analysis of Iraq’s successful election.  Though composed and published on Sunday before the vote itself, her been-there-done-that-got-the-tee-shirt wisdom is a sober assessment of what the surge has done and what the prospect before us is now.  This passage is particularly forceful:

On Jan. 4, 2006, days after Iraq’s second election, President Bush announced that two U.S. combat brigades would be leaving Iraq, in addition to 20,000 troops whose tours had been extended for the vote. Some administration officials clearly hoped that a successful election promised greater stability. Instead, the subsequent negotiations over the government became a harbinger of the most violent Iraq since the days of Saddam Hussein. As I watch this new election, recalling the euphoria of those early Iraqi votes and marveling at the resilience of the Iraqi people in the years since, I am also sobered by the knowledge that the hardest work is yet to come.

But the column is also rare in that O’Sullivan’s past experience — and she worked on Iraq issues for a long and often-bleak time — hasn’t been so scarring as to blur her ability to see what the future might be.  Iraq is not necessarily headed for bright, sunny uplands, but it’s not really “unraveling,” as my friend Tom Ricks often writes, in the sense of going backward to the conditions of 2006.  Even if there is future sectarian conflict, it won’t be the same war as it was.  That was an al Qaeda-inspired war and the least-likely future for Iraq is the return of a Zarqawi-style extremism, as the relatively high Sunni participation in the election makes plain.

It’s a good bet that it will take the Iraqis some time to form a new government and that there will be repeated attempts to shape the outcome through violent means, not least by Iranian-sponsored groups.  This is also a time when the future of the U.S.-Iraq strategic partnership will be shaped profoundly; Gen. Raymond Odierno, the tactical architect of the surge and now overall U.S. commander in Iraq, has been eloquent in explaining this once-in-a-century point of deflection.  Yet for his part, President Obama concluded his remarks congratulating the Iraqis on the election by reiterating his campaign pledge that “by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq.”

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US-ROK OPCON Transfer Should Wait

by Leslie Forgach


South Korea has sounded the alarm again over the plan to disband the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command and transfer of wartime operational control of ROK forces to South Korea by 2012. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young came out for the second time last week and said: “I hope that the U.S.-led defense scheme will remain further, given the North Korean nuclear and missile threat.” While he was careful to appeal to the core U.S. security concerns on the peninsula (nuclear and missile threats), what should really make both countries think twice about a premature transfer is the mounting instability within North Korea and the asymmetric land-based threat the country poses.

The timing of the transfer couldn’t be worse, as North Korea ramps up for 2012, the year that marks the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung (the country’s founding father and “Great Leader”), as well as the year Pyongyang projected it would become a “strong and powerful nation” — a projection the regime could seek to manifest in shows of force. Growing domestic instability, as seen in unprecedented public protests and a hike in hunger-related deaths, along with a looming succession crisis, will also make the next three years a particularly bad time to experiment with a hasty reconfiguration of South Korea’s command and control, potentially putting allied contingency operations at stake. Three years is also not enough time for the South Koreans to fill the existing gaps in their defense capabilities (in terms of missile defense, command and control systems, critical logistical capabilities, etc.), especially with a shrinking defense budget.

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Civil-Military Relations, c. 2030

by CDS Editors

Raphael Cohen, a former Army intelligence officer and friend of the Center for Defense Studies, now pursuing a PhD  at Georgetown, has penned an excellent piece in World Affairs on the prospective course of the civil-military (and inter-service) dialogue over the next twenty years. He’s taken a creative tack in doing so. Here’s the introduction:

The year is 2030 and four leaders-two military, two civilian-sit around a table at the White House or the Pentagon, perhaps, or at a military headquarters or embassy halfway around the world. One is an Army general, an infantryman by trade, who has spent his entire thirty-year-plus career rotating to and from the war zones of what was once called the Global War on Terror and then changed during the Obama administration to the more anodyne Overseas Contingency Operations. The second is an Air Force general, a former fighter pilot who has spent his recent years focusing on more conventional threats, among them how to deal with rogue states via airpower. The third is a Foreign Service officer who has spent much of his career engrossed in the political and economic side of irregular warfare, sometimes embedded with the military, other times manning a remote diplomatic outpost in some hostile precinct. The fourth is a more traditional political appointee: well educated and well connected, he has spent most of his career outside government, but very much inside the Washington world of policy debates.

The participants in this hypothetical meeting exemplify four very different types of leaders, who, if current trends continue, will all be coming to prominence and power by 2030. All come to the table with institutional biases; all boast strong, Type A personalities. None of them come from the same background; none of them speak the same language.

Read the rest here.


Nuclear Spin

by Tom Donnelly

The Obama Administration has moved from the rinse to the spin cycle in its efforts to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal without scaring the pants off America’s allies. The first rotation came from Vice President Joe Biden in a February 18 speech at the National Defense University.  But the tempo has increased with a Sunday New York Times piece, written from White House sources by David Sanger and Thom Shanker previewing the hotly debated and delayed Nuclear Posture Review.

As my friend Tom Mahnken pointed out over at Shadow Government, there is a yet another contradiction at play in Obama’s nuclear policy.  A year ago in Prague, the president revealed his commitment to a nuclear-free world.  Those were the headiest yes-we-can days, and the speech talked of deep nuclear force reductions, formal ratification of a global test ban and a renewed and expanded nonproliferation treaty; it was all about arms control.

If the Sanger-Shanker piece is a preview of what the White House hopes the NPR headline — that’s Nuclear Posture Review, not National Public Radio — will be, many of the Prague themes have been muted, if not entirely obscured.  According to the Times, administration “aides say [the president] will permanently reduce America’s arsenal by thousands of weapons.”  But while that sounds like a lot, most of the weapons in question will come from those in storage, not those still active and deployed.  Sanger and Shanker also made a big deal of the White House’s rejection of a hard “no-first-use” policy, something long desired by arms control advocates.  “We’re under considerable pressure on this one within our own party,” one source told the two reporters. And they quoted Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association that retreating from the no-first-use pledge “wouldn’t be consistent with what the president said in Prague.”

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